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Some­times you spend days in the Kruger Na­tional Park and see noth­ing but an­te­lope, but some­times you get re­ally lucky, like Nicki Güleş and her fam­ily did

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t is pos­si­ble to drive around the Kruger Na­tional Park for two days with­out see­ing more than a herd of im­pala. I had pre­pared my chil­dren for this but, af­ter en­ter­ing at the Kruger’s Numbi Gate near Hazyview for a week­end off at the newly re­fur­bished Sabi River Sun, it didn’t take long for the whin­ing to start.

“Mom, I see what you mean. You re­ally can go for *aaaaages* with­out see­ing any­thing here,” sighed Tolga (8).

But then the most in­cred­i­ble thing hap­pened. We saw four of the Big Five. In three hours. Like, re­ally. It may have had some­thing to do with the game-spot­ting su­per­pow­ers of ranger Ray­mond Ndlovu.

My chil­dren’s first trip to one of the largest na­ture con­ser­van­cies on earth – a capri­cious at­trac­tion who, de­pend­ing on her mood, may or may not show you what she has to of­fer – and they (al­most) got it all: a mag­nif­i­cent male leop­ard saun­ter­ing back and forth across the road, mark­ing his ter­ri­tory, tak­ing his own sweet time. Ele­phant aplenty, in­clud­ing a mother suck­ling her calf. Buf­falo munch­ing grass me­tres from the car. And a rhino mother and her calf right in front of us. They live! The only one of the Big Five they didn’t see was lion. And then there were the chee­tah sun­ning them­selves on a ter­mite hill, an ex­citable fam­ily of spot­ted hyena, ze­bra, wilde­beest and, yes, the im­pala.

Even Ndlovu, a ranger for Ele­phant Herd Tours who has worked in­side the Kruger Park since 1981, was shocked at how much we saw. (Ndlovu, who hails from Mahushu, less than 10km from the Numbi Gate, knows about ev­ery­thing that goes on in the park. Not sur­pris­ingly, he has scored five-star rave re­views on TripAd­vi­sor.)

The chil­dren were de­lighted. I had wor­ried that they would be blasé af­ter a morn­ing at Ele­phant Whis­pers, a short dis­tance from the re­sort, which is home to or­phaned ele­phants, many of whose moth­ers were killed dur­ing the Kruger’s 1980s ele­phant-culling pro­gramme. Here you can in­ter­act with the gi­ants, in­clud­ing one large bull who has learnt 130 com­mands.

If you’re into game-watch­ing, the fab­u­lous thing about stay­ing at the Sabi River Sun is that it has its own hippo and croc­o­dile pool, which you can sit safely be­side, out of harm’s way, thanks to an elec­tric fence. The hip­pos come up from the river in the morn­ing and ho­tel staff close them in for the day. The gates are opened at night again, and guests can watch the hip­pos and their calves march­ing back down to the river for the night.

There are plenty of other things to do, like play golf on the 18-hole course (the only one in the area), or get a mas­sage at the re­sort’s Eden Spa. There are also ac­tiv­i­ties and en­ter­tain­ment for the chil­dren.

The ho­tel, which has been around since the 1930s, re­cently un­der­went a wide-rang­ing re­fur­bish­ment – in­clud­ing the place­ment of but­tresses on the out­side of the build­ing to give the place a more up­dated look. The fam­ily rooms sleep four com­fort­ably, and the rooms have ev­ery­thing one would ex­pect from a four-star ho­tel. The food is tra­di­tional SA fare, and there is pizza on de­mand.

For more ad­ven­tur­ous tourists, there’s the mar­vel­lous zip-lin­ing trail, the long­est of its kind in Mpumalanga, through an in­dige­nous Lowveld for­est nearby, of­fered by Skyway Trails. Knowl­edge­able young guides as­sisted our group down the slides that are between 70m and 230m long. The chil­dren haven’t stopped talk­ing about our week­end trip and are beg­ging to re­turn to the Sabi River Sun. But first I have to crack Ndlovu’s se­cret. God help me if, next time, they don’t get to see a lion too. The Güles fam­ily were guests of Tsogo Sun Sabi River Sun costs R2 505 for a fam­ily of four – din­ner, bed and break­fast. Chil­dren un­der 16 years of age stay and eat break­fast for free. Din­ner is charged for Ele­phant Whis­pers: R650 per adult and half price for chil­dren un­der 12 A Sky­ways Trails tree­top chal­lenge will cost R680 for a fam­ily of four

PHO­TOS: NICKI GÜLEȘ

GI­GAN­TIC The Güleș fam­ily next to Tembo the ele­phant at Ele­phant Whis­pers in Hazyview

RARE calf A ex­cit­ing sight­ing of rhino and

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